There have been some brilliant and breathtaking "guitar records" this year. And this is one of them.
(Cherry Red) https://www.facebook.com/theMembranes
Let's begin this review with a somewhat Pooter-esque anecdote. Not too long ago, whilst "dusting down my records cabinet during a routine spring clean", I pulled out a couple of old Membranes LPs. Songs Of Love And Fury and Kiss Ass... Godhead! to be precise. I thought, I'll leave them out, and give them a spin. Which I duly did. It was a funny experience. Whilst the songs were as whistleable as ever, it was noticeable how scratchy and bitty they now sounded. If anything, these two LPs sounded like compressed time capsules, battered and tinny, reflecting (albeit in a feisty, funny manner) the passive-aggressive nature of British independent rock under the yoke of Brenda. But nothing like the band now. You see, I'd seen the Membranes recently; at the Incubate 2012, Cultuur? Barbaar! 2014, and the Grauzone 2015 festivals. And on all occasions (especially the last one) they sounded like a runaway tank outta space.
Fast forward to another listening experience, namely one based round this LP. Any musical comparisons with old Membranes LPs will have to be shelved. There's no real point in referring to the old LPs as there's very little there to compare. Sonically, it might as well be a new band. The noise that band laid down on this LP is like nothing else they have done before. The Hum of the Universe, Space Junk (and a revamped If You Enter The Arena, You Got To Be Prepared To Deal With The Lions) are ear ringers and tooth looseners extraordinaire.
These tracks are not alone in shaking your mental space into small pieces. More importantly, and most noticeably, there is a cornucopia of sounds on offer. Bits come on like fragments of early T-Dream (5776 The Breathing Song) or a pithy take on No Wave or the more rusty elements of Post-Punk (Money is Dust, or In the Graveyard, which evokes PiL and On-U Sound System in equal measure). Other bits sound like the band should have sounded 30 years ago. Do the Supernova and 21st Century Man are marvellous drivers of the LP and 24 Carrot Membranes; the latter nodding playfully to Malcolm Mooney's kick off from 40 years before. Somehow they've squeezed the essence of their sound out during the record and nailed it; finally.
And, like Theseus laying down his ball of string in the Minotaur's lair, we can maybe make one connection with the past; the idea of time and space. The new LP is obsessed with the universe itself; using it as a bigger metaphor to try to come to terms with the human condition. It may sound a ridiculously impossible conceit to commit to vinyl; and getting Joe Incandela, the head of the Higgs Boson project to lecture on the universe sounds like some straight-edge punk take on Godley & Creme's s Consequences (Incandela being a hell of a lot more coherent and interesting than Peter Cook here, it must be said.) But The Membranes always had this goofy, dreamy side to them that meant they levitated away from the turgid, Eeyore-like plodding of many of their contemporaries. And that's what we still get.
There have been some brilliant and breathtaking "guitar records" this year. And this is one of them. Maybe, in terms of sheer breadth of ambition, courage, and devil-take-the-hindmost intelligence, it's the best one.